It’s Arab American Heritage Month, and as always, we’re celebrating with books starring Arab American protagonists! Please note that this post only includes books that haven’t been included in previous years, so for even more recs, click here!
Man O’War by Cory McCarthy
The jellyfish commonly known as a Portuguese man o’ war is neither Portuguese, nor a jellyfish, nor a man, nor even a singular organism. If you can cope with those facts, you can begin to understand River McIntyre, an elite high school swimmer who’s bad at counting laps.
River McIntyre has lived all their life in the shadow of Sea Planet, a now infamous ocean theme park slowly going out of business in the middle of Ohio. As Sea Planet drifts toward its final end, so does River’s high school career and, worse, their time as a competitive swimmer. Or maybe not. When River makes an impulsive dive into Ocean Planet’s shark tank, they unintentionally set off on a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and self-loathing through layers of coming out, gender confirmation surgery, and true love. And at the end of this race? Who knows. After all, counting laps has never been River’s strong suit.
Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound
The Skin and Its Girl by Sarah Cypher (25th)
In a Pacific Northwest hospital far from the Rummani family’s ancestral home in Palestine, the heart of a stillborn baby begins to beat and her skin turns a vibrant, permanent cobalt blue. On the same day, the Rummanis’ centuries-old soap factory in Nablus is destroyed in an air strike. The family matriarch and keeper of all Rummani lore, Aunt Nuha, believes that the blue girl embodies their sacred history, harkening to a time when the Rummanis were among the wealthiest soap-makers and their blue soap was a symbol of a legendary love.
Decades later, Betty returns to her Aunt Nuha’s gravestone, faced with a difficult decision: Should she stay in the only country she’s every known or should she follow her heart for the woman she loves, perpetuating her family’s cycle of exile? Betty finds her answer in partially translated notebooks that reveal her aunt’s complex life and struggle with her own sexuality, which Nuha hid to help the family emigrate to the U.S. But as Betty soon discovers, her aunt hid much more than that.
A Guide to the Dark by Miriam Metoui (July 18th)
Something is building, simmering just out of reach.
The room is watching. But Mira and Layla don’t know this yet. When the two best friends are stranded on their spring break college tour road trip, they find themselves at the Wildwood Motel, located in the middle of nowhere, Indiana. Mira can’t shake the feeling that there is something wrong and rotten about their room. Inside, she’s haunted by nightmares of her dead brother. When she wakes up, he’s still there.
Layla doesn’t see him. Or notice anything suspicious about Room 9. The place may be a little run down, but it has a certain charm she can’t wait to capture on camera. If Layla is being honest, she’s too preoccupied with confusing feelings for Mira to see much else. But when they learn eight people died in that same room, they realize there must be a connection between the deaths and the unexplainable things that keep happening inside it. They just have to find the connection before Mira becomes the ninth.
And a bonus Syrian-Canadian book:
The Foghorn Echoes by Danny Ramadan
This is the Canadian pub date and cover. It releases in the US on November 8th.
Syria, 2003. A blooming romance leads to a tragic accident when Hussam’s father catches him acting on his feelings for his best friend, Wassim. In an instant, the course of their lives is changed forever.
Ten years later, Hussam and Wassim are still struggling to find peace and belonging. Sponsored as a refugee by a controlling older man, Hussam is living an openly gay life in Vancouver, where he attempts to quiet his demons with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Wassim is living on the streets of Damascus, having abandoned a wife and child and a charade he could no longer keep up. Taking shelter in a deserted villa, he unearths the previous owner’s buried secrets while reckoning with his own.
The past continues to reverberate through the present as Hussam and Wassim come face to face with heartache, history, drag queens, border guards, and ghosts both literal and figurative.
Buy it: Indigo | Bookshop US